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  1. #1
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Post Shyness is a part of being human

    The crystalline wall
    Shyness is a part of being human. The world would be a more insipid, less creative place without it
    Joe Moran
    17 July 2013
    Aeon Magazine | www.aeonmagazine.com

    Excerpt:
    More recently, shyness, like other awkward personality traits, has been seen as an affliction to be treated medically rather than as a temperamental quirk. In 1971, the psychologist Philip Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment, with student volunteers acting as prisoners and guards in a pretend prison in the basement of the Stanford University psychology building. The study had to be stopped a week early because the guards were treating the prisoners so brutally, and many of the inmates had adapted by internalising their subordinate positions and sheepishly obeying their tormentors. Zimbardo began thinking of shy people as incarcerating themselves in a silent prison, in which they also acted as their own guards, setting severe constraints on their speech and behaviour that were self-imposed although they felt involuntary.

    In 1972, Zimbardo began conducting the Stanford Shyness Survey, starting with his own students and eventually including more than 10,000 interviewees. The odd thing about Zimbardo’s work was that it revealed that feeling shy was very common — more than 80 per cent of those interviewed said they had been shy at some point in their lives, and more than 40 per cent said they were currently shy — but that it also pioneered the modern tendency to see shyness as a remediable pathology. Methods of calibrating shyness were developed, such as the Cheek and Buss Shyness Scale (after its Wellesley College researchers Jonathan Cheek and Arnold Buss) in 1981, and the Social Reticence Scale, formulated by the psychologists Warren Jones and Dan Russell in 1982. Extreme shyness was redefined as ‘social anxiety disorder’, and drugs such as Seroxat (also known as Paxil), which works like Prozac by increasing the brain’s levels of serotonin, were developed to treat it. As Christopher Lane argues forcefully in his book Shyness: How Normal Behaviour Became a Sickness (2007), this was part of a more general biomedical turn in psychiatry, with its ‘growing consensus that traits once attributed to mavericks, sceptics, or mere introverts are psychiatric disorders that drugs should eliminate’.

    In 1999, noting that the number of people identifying as shy in his survey had risen to 60 per cent, Zimbardo told the British Psychological Society that we were on the cusp of ‘a new ice age’ of non-communication. Computers, email and the replacement of cashiers and shop assistants by cashpoint machines and automated checkouts were all contributing to what he called an ‘epidemic’ of shyness as the possibilities for human contact diminished. Shyness, he suggested, was no longer an individual problem; it was now a ‘social disease’.

    Today Zimbardo’s prediction of a new ice age created by technology seems wide of the mark. On the contrary, the rise of social networking has made it normal for people to lay bare their private lives without inhibition online, from posting photos of themselves in states of inebriation to updating the world on their changing relationship status, in ways that would have seemed inconceivable a generation ago. The internet, far from cutting us off from each other, has simply provided more fodder for our own era’s fascination with emotional authenticity and therapeutic self-expression — a shift in public attitudes towards personal privacy that Eva Illouz, professor of sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has called ‘the transformation of the public sphere into an arena for the exposition of private life’.

    In her recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012), Susan Cain worries about a world ruled by what she calls the ‘extrovert ideal’. This, she suggests, found its most malign expression in the excessive risk-taking of those who brought about the banking crisis of 2008. Much of Quiet consists of telling introverts how wonderful they are: how we think more deeply and concentrate better than extroverts, are less bothered about money and status, are more sensitive, moral, altruistic, clear-sighted and persistent. If you’re an extrovert, the book probably isn’t for you.

    Yet introversion is not the same as shyness, as Cain is careful to point out, although the two do often overlap. Introverts are people whose brains are overstimulated when in contact with too many other human beings for too long — in which case I am most definitely a shy introvert. If I’m in a noisy group of people for more than about an hour, my brain simply starts to scramble like a computer with a system error, and I end up feeling mentally and physically drained. Introverts such as me need to make frequent strategic withdrawals from social life in order to process and make sense of our experiences.

    Shyness is something different: a longing for connection with other people which is foiled by fear and awkwardness. The danger in simply accepting it, as Cain urges us to do with introversion, is that shyness can easily turn into a self-fulfilling persona — the pose becomes part of you, like a mask that melds with your face. There is always something we cling to in an unhappy situation that stops us escaping from it. In my case, it is the belief that lots of voluble people do not really listen to each other, that they simply exchange words as though they were pinging them over a tennis net — conducting their social life entirely on its surface. A small, self-regarding part of me thinks there is something glib about easy articulacy and social skill.

    My more sensible self realises this is nonsense, and that shyness (or, for that matter, non-shyness) has no inherent meaning. There is nothing specific to shyness that makes you more likely to be a nice person, or a good listener, or a deep thinker. Shyness might have certain accidental compensations — being less susceptible to groupthink and more able to examine the habits and rituals of social life with a certain wry detachment, perhaps. Mostly it is just a pain and a burden.

    Yet shyness remains a part of being human, and the world would be a more insipid, less creative place without it. As Cain argues, we live in a culture that values dialogue as an ultimate ideal, an end in itself, unburdening ourselves to each other in ever louder voices without necessarily communicating any better. Shyness reminds us that all human interaction is fraught with ambiguity, and that insecurity and self-doubt are natural, because we are all ultimately inaccessible to one another. The human brain is the most complex object we know, and the journey from one brain to another is surely the most difficult. Every attempt at communication is a leap into the dark, with no guarantee that we will be understood or even heard by anyone else. Given this obdurate fact, a little shyness around each other is understandable.

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  2. #2
    You have a choice! 21%'s Avatar
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    I have never really understood why shyness is considered a bad thing that needs to be stamped out of your personality. At least over here in Asia, shyness is not so much indicative of the lack of self confidence as the presence of humility, which is a good thing. It's sometimes even encouraged, especially in girls. In guys it's mostly 'cute'.
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    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    I read part of the article, but not all...

    There is an aspect of shyness that likes to observe people or tasks for a longer period of time before acting on these. I think there are advantages to this just like there are advantages to people who jump right in impulsively. I also think that people who care about how interactions with other people turn out can take longer to make sense of a new person before interacting. I tended to prefer to observe people rather than interacting because I felt like I needed to know so much about a person before trying to interact to be sure I didn't hurt them and they didn't hurt me. I always cared about interactions being successful, so that I sometimes got bad results for being too careful.

    I also was not able to get past the negative extreme of shyness until I realized that it was okay to just be myself including the flaws. I figure if some people are too mean, too arrogant, too impulsive, too whatever, that perhaps there was room in this world for me with my setbacks. After all, who is perfect? That helped me relax and even though I am still probably more shy than the average person, my quality of life is pretty good.
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    Quote Originally Posted by 21% View Post
    I have never really understood why shyness is considered a bad thing that needs to be stamped out of your personality. At least over here in Asia, shyness is not so much indicative of the lack of self confidence as the presence of humility, which is a good thing. It's sometimes even encouraged, especially in girls. In guys it's mostly 'cute'.
    I also come from an Asian culture but shyness is not generally seen as a positive thing here. Modesty, humility, quietness, yes, those are positive, but shyness is still viewed as something debilitating.

    I posted the article on my facebook yesterday and my aggressively extroverted mom started interrogating me about it and said she couldn't imagine being that way and that it must be terrible.

  5. #5
    You have a choice! 21%'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by senza tema View Post
    I also come from an Asian culture but shyness is not generally seen as a positive thing here. Modesty, humility, quietness, yes, those are positive, but shyness is still viewed as something debilitating.

    I posted the article on my facebook yesterday and my aggressively extroverted mom started interrogating me about it and said she couldn't imagine being that way and that it must be terrible.
    Hmmmm.. maybe I'm not entirely sure what really constitutes as 'shyness' because I don't think there's a real distinction between things like modesty and shyness where I'm from. Children who hide behind their moms when their mom's friend try to talk to them are shy and cute. A guy who secretly likes a girl but doesn't approach her and instead asks his friend to ask her friend to ask her if she is remotely interested is perfectly acceptable (and again, can be 'aww cute'). People who would rather die than to go up the stage and talk, sing, etc., are also ok. These people are 'shy', but shy is just part of their personality, and not necessarily a bad part (as long as it doesn't become something else, like, say inspire stalker-ish behavior).

    But then again, people aren't really encouraged to 'assert themselves' either, and that can be seen as rude, inconsiderate, selfish. I guess it's the other way round.
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  6. #6
    Symbolic Herald Vasilisa's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe Moran View Post
    In her recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (2012), Susan Cain worries about a world ruled by what she calls the ‘extrovert ideal’. This, she suggests, found its most malign expression in the excessive risk-taking of those who brought about the banking crisis of 2008. Much of Quiet consists of telling introverts how wonderful they are: how we think more deeply and concentrate better than extroverts, are less bothered about money and status, are more sensitive, moral, altruistic, clear-sighted and persistent. If you’re an extrovert, the book probably isn’t for you.
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  7. #7
    Ginkgo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vasilisa View Post

  8. #8
    darkened dreams labyrinthine's Avatar
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    I ended up living in a lot of cultures where shyness was viewed as weakness - cowboy culture. My older sister was in some ways more shy than me, but was able to make a small group of close friends more easily. I would smile at more people, but didn't tend to make friends. What really exacerbated my shyness is that as a kid we moved around so much that I attended 12 different schools in 12 years. I was also put on display as "the new girl" and would receive a lot of attention the first day and then be forgotten about. It was embarrassing to receive the attention and then lonely to be ignored, so socializing was confusing.

    I remember my first boyfriend was really aggressive and would watch me eat and compliment me even on my eating. That put a lot of pressure on me somehow, and I remember on one date my eyes fixated on the floor and I couldn't move. He kept asking me questions, but I literally was frozen. I tried to explain after the fact.

    I guess for me shyness has always had a lot to do with feeling pressured, or like there was too much intrusive attention and expectation. I also am the type to observe and analyze for a long time before jumping into something. I still have moments of social freezing, but overall I'm content with things.
    Step into my metaphysical room of mirrors.
    Fear of reality creates myopic morality
    So I guess it means there is trouble until the robins come
    (from Blue Velvet)

  9. #9
    Freaking Ratchet Rail Tracer's Avatar
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    Shyness is only a problem when you want/willing to interact with people (especially new,) but aren't able to.

    When my parent's and their siblings came over to America (long before I was born,) they lived together and would help each other take care of each others kid when asked. Fast-forward to when I was born, they each lived in their separate houses, but still lived a quick walking distance from one another. Fast-forward to now, and that is when we have to drive to get to each others house. This thing that is happening is fairly common with immigrant families (families that immigrated live with each other, 1st generation American move away a bit from one another, and 2nd generation tend to be the most distant.) The advantage of the initial herd culture, when immigrating to America, is that one is able to protect one another and to smooth out more inconsistencies that each person has. This is a huge advantage compared to being both introverted and shy. It is something about American culture that pride itself in being perceived as different AND loud (not sure what is the correct term to describe it)... or something like that that seems to cause this change in culture.

    I've been known to be the shy kid, and in retrospect, I am still that shy person. Part of me doesn't want to meet people, another part of me wants to meet new people because you really won't get far in this kind of climate. Because of my inclination to err on the side of caution, there are many things that could of been done that an extrovert and less shy person were able to get their hands on.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by fia View Post
    I remember my first boyfriend was really aggressive and would watch me eat and compliment me even on my eating.


    Jeeesus.

    (I don't mean to make light of the situation you faced but that's sort of funny; I couldn't imagine complimenting somebody for their eating, as far as I'm concerned everybody looks ridiculous when they eat. )



    Shyness is something different: a longing for connection with other people which is foiled by fear and awkwardness. The danger in simply accepting it, as Cain urges us to do with introversion, is that shyness can easily turn into a self-fulfilling persona — the pose becomes part of you, like a mask that melds with your face.
    I wonder if aloofness is the mask that melds to shy people's faces; the result of being 'shy' for longer than you can remember is that eventually you just stop caring about being outgoing. Maybe it's simply a coping mechanism. Either way I was what you might call shy as a child—everybody I knew would describe me as shy—and I suffered with bouts of debilitating anxiety in my early teens. As I grew older the anxiety never disappeared entirely but the 'shyness', the 'fear' that came with it, did. What was left was mostly indifference. Looking back on it now it probably was 'self-fulfilling' as the article puts it.


    EDIT: A shy person () left me a rep comment saying "It becomes a 'normal' part of you." Based on my experience I certainly can't argue otherwise. What I fear now is aloofness (seemingly) becoming cynicism and bitterness. It's one thing for people to think you're difficult to approach and another thing for them to avoid approaching you altogether. People say "live with no regrets"; I already regret having emotionally pushed many good people away.

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